Some recent association reports are making it look like Kansas doesn’t care very much about education.
In mid-July, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities released a report showing that Kansas was one of just five states in the country that didn’t increase its financial support to state universities this year. While most states increased higher education funding by an average of 3.6 percent for the current fiscal year, the group said, Kansas approved cuts to state university budgets amounting to about 3 percent over the next two years.
Then, earlier this month, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released data that showed state funding for K-12 education in Kansas, when adjusted for inflation, had declined by about 17 percent since 2008. That was the fourth largest funding decline of any state in the nation.
This kind of publicity certainly doesn’t project the kind of image Kansas is hoping to foster around the country.
As is true of any report, these ratings on education spending are open to interpretation. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is seen by some as a left-leaning group, and the conservative Kansas Policy Institute disputed the K-12 funding report saying it misrepresented the figures by counting only funding that came directly from the state and not local tax revenues authorized by the state. The KPI figures show considerably higher “taxpayer support” for education, but also confirms the responsibility placed on local property tax levies to fund K-6 education.
Mark Tallman, associate executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards offered another perspective on K-12 funding in an Internet posting last week. He contended that per-pupil spending in Kansas, when adjusted for inflation, had gone almost unchanged between 2004 and 2013. “The only significant increase in spending since 2004,” he wrote, “has been in KPERS (state retirement fund) contributions and local bond issues and capital outlay funding approved by local voters.”
From its founding, Kansas has prided itself on the quality of its schools and the excellence of its universities. During October, the Kansas Supreme Court will once again hear arguments about whether the state is adequately funding K-12 schools. Also during October, Kansas legislators will tour the state’s universities seeking answers to a long list of questions they say will help guide their higher education funding decisions in the next legislative session.
Maybe Kansas is doing fine. Maybe the state’s public schools and public universities can produce great results even with current funding levels. But if Kansas truly is bucking a national trend on both K-12 and higher education funding, it may not bode well for the state’s future educational and economic success.